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Members in Action: Mandy Bengtson, Senior Soil Ecologist at SWCA

Saturday, February 1, 2020  
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11 February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. SER is proud to share a profile of one of our member scientists.   

Dr. Mandy Bengtson is a senior soil ecologist at SWCA Environmental Consultants’ Reno location. Colleagues of Bengtson refer to her as “a Rockstar in the world of ecological restoration” for her range of experience and expertise in the field.  

Bengtson earned her PhD in Soil Science from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas studying the ecology of biological soil crusts and arid soil-geomorphology in the Mojave Desert. From there, she managed a microbial ecology lab for four years before transitioning to consulting work.

In her current position with SWCA, Bengtson provides senior scientific oversight, study design and statistical support for a variety of restoration and reclamation projects. She says she appreciates how consulting helps to bridge the gap between scientific research and land management application by providing land managers the tools to make data-informed decisions.

“It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience to be in this role, working with other specialists and helping our clients identify and solve their land management needs,” Bengtson said. “It is invigorating and inspiring to be surrounded by so many smart and motivated people at SWCA.”

To be surrounded by brilliant women role models throughout her education and career in what can be a male dominated field has created a “sisterhood of science” for which she says she is especially grateful.

One current project that Bengtson is particularly passionate about is working with the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) on wildlife and vegetation monitoring and evaluation. Each year, the five Tribes in eastern Washington and northern Idaho collectively conduct monitoring surveys, perform data analysis and develop reports to track restoration progress on their mitigation lands.

Bengtson and her team at SWCA are working with the Tribes and to identify strategies to align the annual analysis and reporting process with each Tribe’s land management questions and goals. They are also facilitating stakeholder meetings to support the UCUT’s diverse approaches to restoration monitoring and adaptive management by establishing effective metrics of success.

 “What excited me the most about this project is the long-term potential of this partnership,” Bengtson said. “Work we are doing now is going to help inform data collection and land management decisions in the decades to come.”

Outside of work, Bengtson also is a volunteer grant writer for the One Truckee River Initiative (OTR), a local organization that focuses on comprehensive management of the Truckee River, Nevada.  OTR’s diverse partnership of non-profits, agencies, and private sector members focuses on issues ranging from environmental to social, with particular interest in environmental justice.

 “You can’t address environmental issues without also addressing social issues and inequalities,” said Bengtson, “and that is true on all scales”.

As a consultant, Bengtson notes her unique position approaching this topic. “The consulting world plays an active role in navigating environmental justice issues,” she said, emphasizing the importance of having diverse leadership in the field of natural resources to ensure that all groups are heard.

Regarding women in science Bengtson comments, “Women bring unique perspectives and have different leadership styles than men. Anytime we can have a diversity of voices, in terms of gender but also cultural, racial and any other type of diversity, it always leads to a better outcome”.

Bengtson is excited about seeing the shift of women taking more leadership roles in science [and other previously male-dominated fields], particularly now being pregnant with a daughter.

“I think it is an amazing time to be a woman in this world. There are still inequalities, but now more than ever we are in a place where women can do anything,” she said. 

Written by Quinn Zimmerman